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An End to Bush's "Big No" on Energy Conservation

May 19, 2009

President Obama today announced plans to dramatically cut vehicle emissions while substantially increasing fuel efficiency by 2016. In so doing, the President didn't merely set the first national standards for gas mileage standards and curbing the production of greenhouse gases. Obama's move also represents a complete repudiation of the George W. Bush approach to energy conservation Ari Fleischer once summed up in four words: "that's a big no."
As the Washington Post noted, President Obama plans to put an end to conflicting state-by-state guidelines while turning the screws on auto manufacturers foreign and domestic:

It will also raise fuel efficiency targets to 35.5 miles per gallon for new passenger vehicles and light trucks by 2016, four years earlier than required under the 2007 energy bill, sources close to the administration said.
The measures are significant steps forward for the administration's energy agenda by cutting greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change and by easing U.S. dependence on oil, most of which is imported.

Unsurprisingly, that is a sea change in both policy and rhetoric from Bush administration.
As Dick Cheney's secret energy task force prepared to do its dirty work, press secretary Ari Fleischer made clear that energy conservation would not be part of President Bush's agenda. The demands of climate change and national security, Fleischer insisted on May 7, 2001, would not result in demands on the American people:

Q: Is one of the problems with this, and the entire energy field, American lifestyles? Does the President believe that, given the amount of energy Americans consume per capita, how much it exceeds any other citizen in any other country in the world, does the President believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a big no. The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one. And we have a bounty of resources in this country. What we need to do is make certain that we're able to get those resources in an efficient way, in a way that also emphasizes protecting the environment and conservation, into the hands of consumers so they can make the choices that they want to make as they live their lives day to day.

For his part, George W. Bush sought to address America's growing energy needs by massive giveaways to domestic energy producers while famously promising to "jawbone OPEC members to lower the price" of oil. As it turned out, it wasn't Bush's jawbone but his crippling recession which drove down U.S. energy demand, and with it, gas prices.
It just goes to show what eight years and one president election can do. Facing the three crises of global warming, energy insecurity and a teetering auto industry, could President Bush have brokered the deal announced by Barack Obama today?
As Ari Fleischer would say, that's a big no.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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